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Thomas v. Graham

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 27, 2015

RICARDO THOMAS, #336-672, Petitioner,
v.
RICHARD J. GRAHAM, JR., Warden of Western Correctional Institution, and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MARYLAND, Respondents.

MEMORANDUM ORDER

THEODORE D. CHUANG, District Judge.

On October 2, 2014, [1] Petitioner Ricardo Thomas filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his 2006 convictions in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland for first-degree murder and related offenses. ECF No. 1. Thomas proceeds pro se. Recognizing that his Petition appears to be untimely, Thomas has also filed a Motion for Equitable Tolling. See ECF No. 4. At the Court's direction, Respondents filed a Limited Response that addresses the timeliness of the Petition. ECF No. 8. Thomas was afforded the opportunity to file a Reply and has done so. ECF No. 10. Upon review of the pleadings and exhibits, the Court finds no need for an evidentiary hearing. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2); Rule 8(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. The Court concludes that the Petition is time-barred. Accordingly, the Motion for Equitable Tolling is DENIED, and the Petition is DISMISSED.

BACKGROUND

On March 2, 2006, in the Montgomery County Circuit Court, Thomas was convicted of first-degree murder, armed robbery, illegal use of a handgun, and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. See Maryland Judiciary Case Search, Criminal Action No. 103170C (Montgomery Cnty. Cir. Ct. 2014). On June 28, 2006, the court sentenced Thomas to life without parole plus 40 years of imprisonment. Id. at Docket No. 205. On appeal before the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, Thomas argued, among other things, that the State erred in failing to disclose a statement by one of the State's witnesses until the first day of trial. Thomas v. State ("Thomas f'), No. 1012, slip op. at 26-33 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2009). In an unreported opinion, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed Thomas's conviction on May 15, 2009. Id at 1. The Court of Appeals of Maryland denied certiorari on August 26, 2009. See Maryland Judiciary Case Search, Criminal Action No. 103170C, Docket No. 229. Thomas did not seek review before the United States Supreme Court. He acknowledges that his conviction became final on November 24, 2009, when the 90-day period for seeking Supreme Court review expired. See Clay v. United States, 537 U.S. 522, 525 (2003) (holding that "a judgment of conviction becomes final when the time expires for filing a petition for certiorari contesting the appellate court's affirmation of the conviction"); see also Pet'r's Reply at 2, ECF No. 10.

On May 24, 2010, Thomas filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Montgomery County Circuit Court. Id. at Docket No. 233. On August 29, 2011, the petition was withdrawn at his request. Id. at Docket Nos. 250, 251. Nearly a year later, on August 20, 2012, Thomas filed another state petition for post-conviction relief. Id. at Docket No. 255. On December 19, 2013, following a hearing the Montgomery County Circuit Court denied the petition Id. at Docket No. 275. On September 30, 2014, the Court of Special Appeals denied Thomas's application for leave to appeal. See Thomas v. State ("Thomas II'), No. 2653, slip op. at 1 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2014). On October 2, 2014, Thomas filed the Petition in this Court seeking habeas relief on the ground that the State did not timely disclose a statement made by one of the State's witnesses before trial. Pet. at 7, ECF No. 1.

DISCUSSION

At issue here is whether the Petition is time-barred. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDP A"), when filing a federal habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, defendants convicted in state court on a non-capital offense are subject to a one-year statute of limitations. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d) (2012). The limitations period begins to run from the latest of:

(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review;
(B) the date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the applicant was prevented from filing by such State action;
(C) the date on which the constitutional right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if the right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(D) the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.

§ 2244(d)(1). Here, under § 2244(d)(1)(A), Thomas had until November 24, 2010 to file a habeas petition in this Court, one year after his conviction became final on November 24, 2009.

Thomas is entitled, however, to statutory tolling during the time that his state post-conviction petitions were pending. AEDP A provides that "the time during which a properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending shall not be counted toward any period of limitation under this subsection." § 2244(d)(2). Before Thomas filed his first state petition for post-conviction relief on May 24, 2010, 179 days had passed since his conviction became final. The limitations period was tolled until Thomas withdrew his petition on August 29, 2011. An additional 357 days passed before Thomas refiled his state petition on August 20, 2012, totaling 536 days. The period between when the Court of Special Appeals denied Thomas's application for leave to appeal on September 30, 2014, and when he filed the Petition in this Court on October 2, 2014, added two more days. Thus, 538 days not tolled under AEDPA had passed before Thomas filed the presently pending Petition. The Petition was filed well outside the one-year limitations period.

Nevertheless, Thomas argues that he is entitled to equitable tolling because he encountered a "few setbacks that were beyond his control, such as, a few prison lock-downs, legal library cancellations, and a major delayed response to a request for documents needed to prove his case." Mot. Equitable Tolling at 1, ECF NO.4. The one-year time limitations period for § 2254 petitions may be equitably tolled in limited circumstances. Rouse v. Lee, 339 F.3d 238, 246 (4th Cir. 2003). Use of equitable tolling is rare and "must be guarded and infrequent." Id (quoting Harris v. Hutchinson, 209 F.3d 325, 330 (4th Cir. 2000)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Equitable tolling is only available if the petitioner demonstrates that (1) "he has been pursuing his rights diligently, " and (2) "some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way and prevented timely filing." Whiteside v. United States, 775 F.3d 180, 184 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631, 649 (2010)). Such tolling "must be reserved for those rare ...


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